The next morning I attended a Contemporary History lecture. It was as if an additional chapter had suddenly been appended to the curriculum. That day’s lecture was completely about the attack and what it meant for the world. The discussion was continued in the pub. A few months later, I was about to hop on my bike to attend yet another lecture when the TV news was interrupted for some breaking news: Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn had been shot. During the lecture, we found out he was dead. Once again, the history books were being rewritten as we read them.
I remember lectures by Hans Renner, who fled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and bore a slight resemblance to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He would glue a fake birthmark to his face and propose a toast of vodka to everyone in the lecture room. Marinus Wes was a Professor of Ancient History, whose motto was that everything that happened more than five minutes ago was considered ancient history. And so, during his famous Christmas lectures, he would discuss all stages of history in one multi-media extravaganza, ranging from Jesus Christ to Bob Marley. It was but a small step to Wes.
EM is 20 years old and during the Christmas period, all kinds of articles that look back on twenty years of Erasmus Magazine will appear under the name 20 Years of EM. In the section When I was 20 the editors of EM look back on their study time, currently one, two or more decades ago.
The excitement of that first year at uni subsided a bit when the world was restored to some peace and I realised that my Ancient History exam was not about Bob Marley at all. I had to take several re-sits in August. As a result, I spent the summer of 2002 swotting for my re-sits while the sun was burning down on us. At our roof terrace, lying in an inflatable boat with a shallow layer of lukewarm water in it, I attentively read Greeks and Romans in a World Historical Context, while fellow students who had passed their exams swung by for a beer, and to tell me which history book they were reading now. It was there, dressed in swim briefs, holding a beer in one hand and a book in the other, that I decided that – unlike Wes – I was only interested in things that had happened less than five minutes ago. After obtaining my Bachelor degree in History, I switched to a Master degree in Journalism, never to look back again.
I did not pass the exam until my third attempt.
Elmer Smaling (1981)